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On the waitlist? Here's what comes next.

Updated: Feb 22

Each year, high school seniors receive more and more waitlist offers from colleges. These emotionally treacherous college decisions used to come to some of my students, and I would talk about them when they came up. However, in the past five years, it’s become clear that almost all seniors receive a waitlist offer from at least one college now.

What is a waitlist offer?

If you’ve been placed on a college’s waitlist, you have received a denial letter. It is a decision, and colleges consider it final. However, they may contact you later to offer you a spot in the incoming class if one becomes available. Sometimes, the waitlist is ranked, and colleges call students in order; other times, admissions representatives will review the list to find a best-fit student.

Sometimes, a waitlist is just a nod from the college that they like the student (or their parents, in the case of legacy status), but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from the letter.

Should I accept the offer?

Only accept a spot on the waitlist if you'd enroll. Don’t take someone else’s spot just because you’re curious to know what happens.

After you accept a waitlist offer, you must make other plans and submit a deposit at another college by the May 1st deadline.

When will colleges reach out?

Colleges call students as spots open up, which can happen at any time. Often, colleges will go through a number of students who decline (and take 3 days to do it) before they find one who accepts, so the process can take time. Indeed, some students are even admitted off the waitlist after they’ve moved into a dorm on another campus.

Colleges rarely reach out to tell students they will not be admitted from the waitlist, so this can create a painful summer for students. Minimize pain by truly committing emotionally to another college. Let the call from the college be a total, wonderful surprise if it comes. It’s the same result, but you won’t be waiting desperately all summer during the time you should be celebrating your hard work and exciting journey to come.

What if I'm admitted from the waitlist?